With right-hander Grayson Rodriguez out for most of the season with a lat injury, and lefty D.L. Hall building his innings at Triple A, the Orioles pitching prospect who should get the longest run in the big-league rotation this year is 25-year-old Kyle Bradish.
A fourth-round pick by the Los Angeles Angels out of New Mexico State University in 2018, Bradish was considered the best of the four young pitchers the Orioles acquired when they sent Dylan Bundy to the Angels in December 2019.
The right-hander scooted up the organization’s prospect list, settling at No. 8 heading into the 2022 season, according to Baseball America. Bradish cemented that status by posting a 1.20 ERA in three starts at Triple-A Norfolk before making his big-league debut on April 29.
It’s been a mixed bag since for the 6-foot-4 Bradish, who is 1-4 with a 6.86 ERA in nine starts. Bradish hasn’t escaped the fifth in his last four outings, but he has two quality starts, including an absolute gem on May 10 in St. Louis in which he allowed two runs in seven innings and struck out 11.
Kyle Bradish, Nasty 87mph Slider. 😨 pic.twitter.com/fOHSaVKy64
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 1, 2022
Not bad for a guy who was the third pitcher in his high school rotation in Arizona and received only one Division I offer before blossoming as an ace while pitching half his games at one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in college baseball.
The first part of Bradish’s life was spent in Tualatin, Ore. — roughly five miles from where Orioles’ catcher Adley Rutschman grew up in Sherwood, Ore. — but Bradish’s family moved to Goodyear, Ariz., where he went to high school.
The Athletic sat down with Bradish recently to talk about his background, his interests and what it’s been like in his first season as a big leaguer. It has been edited for brevity and clarity.
To start, I thought I was doing a Q&A with a talented pitcher from Arizona. But apparently you’re just another talented catcher from Oregon on this Orioles team, right?
(Laughs.) My position-player days were over probably my senior year in high school when I hit about .300 with one homer. And all the guys that were going on to play college baseball hit about .400 with a few homers.
How long were you a catcher?
I was a catcher all in Oregon, a little bit in club ball when I moved out to Arizona. And then I transitioned from that to pitching. I also played some outfield and first base.
Did you know the Rutschman family when you were in Oregon?
My parents, they would always talk to other teams’ parents, so they knew each other. I obviously knew of him from playing against him. We played tournaments against him.
Do you remember pitching against him?
Not really. That was a long time ago. And I was a catcher back then. I didn’t pitch that often.
Why did your family move to Arizona from Oregon?
My older sister had just graduated high school, and I was going into eighth grade and my dad was looking for new jobs and my grandmother on my mom’s side was sick. So, my mom wanted to be out there to kind of take care of her and help out her sisters. Everything kind of lined up. They left it up to me, basically. I said, “If that’s what we all want to do, I’m fine with that.”
Did baseball play a factor for you in that decision, considering Arizona’s reputation as a fertile ground for the sport?
That was more in my dad’s mind than it was mine. I was more worried about making new friends and stuff. He thought about that for sports. Baseball year-round, good football, basketball, too. That was more on the parents’ side than it was mine.
You were a quarterback growing up as well. Did you stick with that in high school?
I played quarterback (initially) in high school and then moved over to wide receiver for my junior and senior years. I played basketball as well, but I stopped after my sophomore year to focus on baseball and football because they kind of overlapped basketball.
Coming out of high school, your only DI baseball offer was New Mexico State. How did that come together?
I probably threw about 40 innings my senior year on the mound. I was kind of our closer and I’d start every third game. The two pitchers that were ahead of me, one was committed to Arizona State and the other was going to the University of Utah. They were the ones getting the looks. And they didn’t play other sports. So, they were out doing showcases and stuff and I was busy playing football — which I wouldn’t change. I love football. So, I was signed to go to Paradise Valley (Ariz.) Community College and, with two weeks left in my senior year, New Mexico State called my coach and said, “We want to come out and see him throw a bullpen.” They came out, I threw the bullpen and they asked me to come on a visit the next weekend and I signed there.
With the high altitude in Las Cruces, N.M., that’s not exactly a place pitchers love to throw. Did that matter to you?
My high school coach was a coach with Grand Canyon (University), they are in the same conference (as New Mexico State), and he knew that park well. And he told me when they called, “Hey, it’s not a good pitcher’s park and not a good facility.” But he didn’t know they had a new coach coming in, Brian Green taking over. And he basically got a new facility, had a whole new turf infield, upgraded the locker rooms and everything. I saw that when I was out visiting and then he kind of sold me with a PowerPoint (presentation). He brought in 35 new players, probably 15 high school guys and the rest were junior college transfers. He brought us all in and we went from there. And I had no second guesses when I got there.
You compiled a 3.79 ERA in college and a 2.67 ERA as a junior. Now you’re in another renowned hitter’s park. Obviously, the organization is doing things to try to change that perception, but do you feel like your time pitching 3,900 feet above sea level — and succeeding — has helped you with pitching in Camden Yards?
Yeah. I did it for three years. The WAC is pretty hitter-friendly, too, throughout the conference. Then in 2019, my first year of pro ball, I was in the (High-A) Cal League, which is very offensive-minded, so I was kind of prepared for it. I don’t usually give up a lot of homers. As of late, I have been. But that will change. But the ballpark doesn’t really matter if you’re executing pitches.
Heading into 2022, did you think you’d be in the majors by now?
My goal this offseason was come into spring training and put myself into the position where the only reason I wasn’t making the team was numbers-wise (a roster crunch). And obviously I didn’t make the team out of spring training and then (the Orioles) had a couple injuries and that prompted me to get called up. But I always saw myself being here early this year, if not at the start of the year.
Is this big-league experience what you’ve expected?
Yeah, it’s been everything and more. Obviously, it hasn’t started the way I wanted it to. There have been a few high points, but I’ve been learning a lot. (Manager Brandon) Hyde and the whole coaching staff, (pitching coaches Chris Holt and Darren Holmes), they’ve been awesome to me. The players have been very welcoming and have helped me through this down time.
Anyone in particular you’ve bonded with in this organization?
There’s been numerous guys. Spenser Watkins, Dean Kremer, Bruce Zimmermann, Nick Vespi. Those kinds of guys I played a lot with last year and then a lot of guys in Triple A, Grayson (Rodriguez) D.L. (Hall), Joey Ortiz, I played with him in college. We all have really good relationships.
Did you have a “Welcome to the Show” moment, whether it was on the field or off?
The first one was when I was walking from the Hilton (behind left-field at Camden Yards). I was walking around the field (before his debut) and I was getting lost, because I didn’t know where the entrance was. And I was like, “Wow, this place is really big.” The nerves started to hit me. Then, when I got into the clubhouse, it kind of went away. I said hello to Hyder and got all my stuff situated. Then when I came out and all the media was taking pictures, I was like, “All right, this is something.” It really hit me when I was in my pregame bullpen. I was almost close to hyperventilating. It was moving so fast. My mind was racing. I was hot. Yeah, there was a lot going on in that moment.
Looking back on it, probably the night of, I was like, “Those are some really good guys.” Especially Goldy. Being from Arizona, I grew up watching him in his Arizona years. But there wasn’t a single moment; it was just a whole, collective outing. I think the big moment for me in that outing was in the sixth inning, after the inside-the-park home run (by Harrison Bader). I came back and struck out the side. And then Hyde sent me back out there for the seventh. I think that showed some toughness.
Hyde has talked about how you aren’t scared by the situation, that you can bounce back from a bad pitch, a bad outing. Last week you gave up a homer on the first pitch of the game, but allowed one run the rest of the outing. Have you always had that mentality?
I’ve always been a confident guy. And I know I have really good stuff. Hats off to (Chicago Cubs leadoff hitter Christopher Morel). He jumped a heater on the first pitch of the game, got on time with it and drove it. That’s gonna happen. It’s not the first time; it’s not gonna be the last time. And that’s what a lot of veteran pitchers have told me. I’ve talked with (John) Means a little bit, and (Jordan) Lyles. “Hey, you’re gonna give up homers and you’re gonna keep giving them up. But you’ve gotta come back and make the next pitch. And keep going.” So, out on the mound, when something bad happens, I have to refocus and think, “I’ve been here. I can do this.”
Does that success in the St. Louis outing help you when you’ve had struggles since?
Yeah. That one definitely was a confidence boost, knowing that I can strike out the best hitters in the league and make a quality start every outing. It’s just on me being in the zone and not having to waste pitches.
For you, is gaining consistency more about command or efficiency of pitches?
A little bit of both. Fastball command has not been there for the past (few) outings and the slider has been hit or miss. Luckily, I’ve been able to use my changeup, which is a pretty new pitch for me, but it’s been working. But, yeah, my efficiency. When I’m getting to 0-2 (count) recently, it’s been 0-2 to 3-2. They are fouling off pitches and it turns into an eight, nine, 10 pitch at-bat. So, (Holt) preaches it, getting guys out in four pitches or less. And I have the ability to do that every hitter. It’s just up to me to be in the zone to do it.
Do you consider yourself an analytics guy or more of a feel pitcher?
A little bit of both. Analytically, my stuff is pretty good, but there is also the pitching aspect of it, that you can’t just rely on your stuff. So, I am in between both of them. I think both of them are very good for the game.
What do you like to do when you’re not playing baseball?
Walk my dog. And me and my wife like to travel. We went to Mexico this past offseason. Hawaii. She wants to go to Italy. We’re in California a lot. Have friends in Texas. And last year, she came out (at season’s end) and drove with me back from Norfolk (to Arizona) and we made a week-long trip out of it.
Where did you meet your wife, Mollie?
I met her in high school. We started dating our junior year of high school. We’ve been married 2 1/2 years.
OK, so tell me a little more about the other essential force in your household. I was told I had to ask about your dog. Big part of your life, right?
(Laughs.) Yeah. Maui Blue, that’s his name. He’s an English cream golden retriever. We got him in December of 2020. He’s 1 1/2. I walk him. Take him to the park. He loves to go on hikes with us. In the offseason, we take him up to Flagstaff and Sedona (Ariz.) and take him on hikes.
Is this an isolated love or are you a dog guy?
Oh yeah, I’m a dog guy. I grew up with dogs. I had two golden retrievers, a Bernese mountain dog. My parents have a chocolate lab right now; they got him after I went out to college.
Anything else you like to do besides hanging out with your wife and dog?
I like going out to my parents’ cabin. Going four-wheeling. I’m a very chill guy. Hang out with friends, watch TV. Not too adventurous. I’m not a big hunter.
What’s your go-to TV show to binge?
Right now, I’m watching “Stranger Things,” season four just came out. I’m grinding through that. I like “New Girl,” that’s another Netflix one. “Schitt’s Creek,” that’s a good one. They’re all basic, but they’re all good. I need to get into “Westworld,” I’ve had some friends give me that recommendation. Of course, “Game of Thrones.” Loved that one. If I have time, I’ll sit on the couch and watch hours of TV.
Any hidden talents?
Not really. I’m kind of boring. (Laughs.)
OK, to sum up, what has this whole MLB experience been like for you?
It’s been a dream come true. That’s a basic answer, but I grew up loving baseball. My dad grew up playing baseball, so it was our dream for me to play in the major leagues. And now I’m here and am trying to make the most of it. And, obviously, I want to keep progressing and getting better.
(Photo: Scott Taetsch / USA Today)